Hope for the Restless Hearts
‘Vanity of vanities… all is vanity’ (Eccles. 12:8). These were the Preacher’s first (see 1:2), and also his last words. The writer begins and ends his book by saying the same thing.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, the Hebrew word for vanity has served as the Preacher’s multipurpose metaphor to express the frustration of life in a fallen world. Taken literally, the word refers to a breath or vapor, ‘like the steam rising from a warm lake on a chilly morning.’ Such is life: it vanishes into thin air. Everything is vaporous, it vanishes.
We should not think, however, that the Preacher merely repeats himself. Eccles. 12:8 brings us back to the place where we began, but we are not the same people that we were when we first started reading the book. Studying Ecclesiastes has given us a bigger perspective on life. So, when we hear the same statement at the end that we heard at the beginning, it strikes us with greater force.
Ecclesiastes mainly teaches us to see how meaningless life is without God, and how little joy there is under the sun if we try to leave our Creator out of His universe. By the time we get to the end of the book, we have to admit that the author has proved his case. ‘Nothing in our search has led us home,’ writes Derek Kidner; ‘nothing that we are offered under the sun is ours to keep.’ Vanity of vanities! It is all vanity.
Yet ‘vanity’ does not get the last word, either in the Bible or in the Christian life. Ecclesiastes might well have ended with chapter 12, verse 8: ‘Vanity of vanities!’ Instead, it closes with further remarks that put the whole book into perspective. In these final verses we learn that the Preacher wrote words with clarity, artistry, and integrity, to impress upon us life’s vanity (fleetingness).
As Philip Ryken states: ‘Think of Ecclesiastes as the Bible’s cattle prod. The Preacher’s words push us to expect lasting satisfaction not in money or pleasure, but only in the goodness of God.’ These words steer us away from foolish living and spur us on to patience, commitment, and joy. Ryken then concludes: ‘When we forget about God the Preacher prompts us to remember our Creator, and the moment we start to think that we will live forever, he pokes us in the ribs and reminds us that soon we will die.’
Thus, the last words of Ecclesiastes (‘the end of the matter’) provide a fitting conclusion: ‘Fear God and keep [obey] his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man’ (12:13). To fear God is to honor and revere Him as God. This is not only the beginning of wisdom; it is also the beginning of joy, of contentment and of an energetic and purposeful life. The Preacher wishes to deliver us from trusting in our own wisdom (or this world’s) and ‘he wishes to drive us to see that God is there, that He is good and generous, and that only such an outlook makes life coherent and fulfilling.’ This Lord’s Day we will talk about how some have seen in this conclusion, “perhaps the deepest mystery of the gospel: ‘The just shall live by faith’ (Hab. 2:3; Rom 1:16-17).” Won’t you join us?
May the Lord make His Word fruitful in our lives that we might live full lives to His glory. It is with eager expectation that I anticipate our worship together this Sunday and invite your continued prayers for the Lord’s work.
Allow me to encourage you to update your contact information through this link, by email or in person to Keri or myself. Thank you for helping us to better communicate the happenings of Redeemer. Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus, our risen and reigning Lord.
For His Kingdom,